Life is Strange, Episode 3: Chaos Theory picks up at the end of Episode 2. Depending on how your story ended last time, Max is dealing with the fallout of her decisions or breathing a sigh of relief. In my version of events, it’s the former.
The trouble with episodic games, is they can struggle with pacing. Some episodes are better than others, leaving gamers wondering if they should stick it out. Life is Strange came out with a strong opening episode that had everyone on the edge of their seat, but the second installment fell a bit flat in the middle. The introduction of traditional gameplay elements didn’t add anything, instead slowing the story down. But Dontnod pulled it back from a disappointment, with a dramatic finale.
Still reeling from the events in Episode 2, I was keen to see what would happen next. This chapter was a return to form for the series. Max and Chloe’s relationship was central, with lots of intimate dialogue scenes.
As the plot thickens, it becomes more and more difficult to avoid spoilers for previous episodes, but this will be spoiler free. If you haven’t already, I advise you to read my reviews for Episode 1 and Episode 2.
This chapter begins with Max and Chloe breaking into Blackwell
Academy to gather evidence. They suspect the principal is hiding something and rifle through the student files of all the main players in this increasingly complex drama.
The next target for investigation is Chloe’s stepdad, David Madsen, in a sequence that leads to a major moral dilemma. This scene had me crippled with indecision. The rewind power means you can see both outcomes, but you’re still left wondering what the wider, long-term implications might be. Side with David and risk Chloe’s wrath or take Chloe’s side and watch a marriage collapse. The choice is yours and even thought it may appear black and white, previous episodes prove it’s hard to second guess what the consequences may be.
Whilst I was disappointed with the ‘gamey’ elements of Episode 2, Chaos Theory succeeds in using Max’s powers to great effect. Puzzles need to be solved using Max’s time rewind to manipulate conversations in your favour. Characters tell you something, allowing you to rewind and use that as a conversation starter, to get them to reveal even more information.
It’s important to remember that while in rewind, Max retains all items and information. She also stays in the same position. This is used to great effect in a few instances. And thankfully, there were no more of the terrible memory test games, which reared their head in Episode 2.
The other puzzles involve walking around collecting items in order to open up the next cutscene. These could have been boring ‘go fetch’ moments, but once again clever writing comes into play. As we search for our game items, new story clues cross our path. You can just fetch the items or you can pore over the details scattered through the game and enrich your experience.
Life is Strange is at its best during the quiet moments. If Max is alone, you can choose to sit on a bench and listen to her inner thoughts. But it’s her relationship with Chloe that is central to this episode.
Since the beginning of the game, there has been an ambiguity about Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber. Were they romantically involved? And now there’s a growing sexual tension between Max and Chloe. A scene in a swimming pool and then waking up in bed together the next morning, are two of the game’s trademark quiet moments, which lend more weight to a possible romantic interest between the girls.
Some may say that Dontnod is tiptoeing around the issue of gay relationships. Is this ambiguity a form of cowardice on the part of the writers or is it planned? Only time will tell.
I’m willing to give Dontnod the benefit of the doubt. In some ways, the ambiguity works better. Those teenage years are confusing and the edges are blurred. When does friendship become romance? And why should Dontnod put their characters in a box? Slapping a big ‘they’re lesbians’ label on them could be seen as tokenism or worse, titillation for the sake of being edgy. Max is torn between Chloe and Warren and I like that, even though she seems intent on sabotaging our date with Warren.
Life is Strange always packs a dramatic punch at the end of each episode, but I wasn’t ready for this ending. By the end credits, everything has changed. Max has used her rewind power to alter a pivotal moment and the consequences have been huge. I don’t even know if Rachel Amber is missing any more. That’s how big the ending was.
I have so many questions at this point. I can’t wait to see how they write their way out of this particular corner. Life is Strange isn’t perfect, but so far, it’s the best bit of interactive storytelling I’ve ever played. Sure, I’d like to be able to take photos at will and sometimes the gameplay feels a bit repetitive, but this is edge of my seat storytelling. If you were disappointed by Episode 2, jump into Episode 3 because it’s the best installment yet – just steel yourself for an emotional ride. Or you can check out my Let’s Play of Chaos Theory now on the GiN YouTube channel.